Pastel Over Watercolor
The painting above started as a watercolor. I knew it was overcooked at the three-quarters finished point – so I tossed it in a flat file to dry, with plans to feed it to the shredder. A few weeks later, I spotted the forgotten watercolor, and wondered if it might be a candidate for one of those “anything goes” art supply experiments with pastel over the watercolor. (Do you do those too? This painting was another example of pastel over watercolor.)
Goofing off with pastels over an expired watercolor can resuscitate the image into something altogether different, because the pastels are beautifully, brightly opaque. Bandaids for all our mistakes! Plus, if you use arbitrary color, crazy mark-making and shifty compositions, you can nudge your art-brain off your habitual safe path, and tread on a brand new creative road. Do you know what I mean? Your experiments in the art studio are loaded with discovery and lessons.
I should have snapped a before picture – so you could see the repair details (there’s a different example below) – but you’ll have to trust me; my ferris wheel was a sad watercolor. The shoreline was straight as a pin, there were no clouds, and the architectural elements were flatter than a puddle. I was documenting from the photo, instead of listening to the creative detours suggested by my art brain. Adding pastel over watercolor made the piece much more festive. If you need a few examples of process, I’ve added three links below to other artists showing how you can add pastel to your watercolors too.
- Here is a video tutorial by Susan Jenkins demonstrating the use of either clear gesso, or fixative on your watercolor to give it a little more grip, so the pastels will stick.
- This is a post with step-by-step photos about creating a tiny 6×4 painting of flowers with pastel on top of the watercolor by Karen Margulis. Meander around her site for beautiful art, and more helpful tips and tricks.
- South African artist Malcolm Dewey demonstrates a landscape painting in a small watercolor sketchpad, from start to finish: light pencil to lay in the shapes, watercolor on the sketch, followed by soft pastel to pop the colors. See that here.
It’s Your Turn
So how ’bout you give pastel over watercolor a try? Pull out some less than stellar watercolors, and bring them back to life with your pastels. Don’t be safe about it – go a little crazy. You have nothing to lose if you already thought the painting was a failure. Be loose, and leave your marks visible on top of the pigment (like this artist does). Not only do you give the art a second chance to become something, you also get to survey what you’ve learned about making good art between the time you set the failed painting in a cupboard, and the day you pulled it out to resurrect it with all the knowledge you’ve harvested since then. It’s a double wide chair of Good Job, Artist! Acknowledgement of growth keeps our engines running. Take before and after pics, and post a link to your blog in the comments so we can all see the magic. Abracadabra! Go make something!
The Santa Monica Ferris Wheel
Here’s a little trivia for you: Pacific Park is an amusement park on the beach at the end of the Santa Monica Pier here in Los Angeles, California. The watercolor underneath that pastel was inspired by the old Ferris Wheel – which was dismantled and replaced by new computer controlled LED version about ten years ago. The old wheel was 9 stories high, solar powered, and was featured in 28 films and 140 television shows. It was auctioned on Ebay in 2008, with all proceeds ($134K) going to the Special Olympics. There you have it: dinner conversation fodder.
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Alice Neel & I met when a couple of mutual friends introduced us. She said ‘Oh, you’re Chuck Close? I hate your work.” I said “That’s very interesting, because I really love yours.” She said “Well in that case, I guess I’ll have to take a second look at yours.Chuck Close